We comment. We fight. We bicker. We block. Political discourse in America today is far from rosy.
We avoid introspection and waste no time blaming this polarization on anything and everything — except ourselves. Social media. Free speech. Corporate media. Bad-faith journalists. Algorithms. Echo chambers. Fake news. Donald Trump. George Soros. Disinformation. Foreign propaganda. CNN. Fox News. 4Chan. Bla, bla, bla, BLA!
We shamelessly charge head-first into a hurricane of emotional turmoil only to push ourselves further from our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors at the expense of our peace of mind and sanity.
But we are not born divided. No one tumbles into this world a liberal, conservative, or libertarian. Adopting political views is like wearing a special pair of glasses. They are an attachment, an extension of ourselves. They can be worn or removed as needed. But whether we wear those glasses or not, and regardless of what shade or intensity their lenses, they’re just one of the infinitely many traits that makes people who they are. There is so much more to all of us than our respective political dogmas.
If we use only the prism of politics to view the world, everything becomes smaller, simpler, and easier to explain. Suddenly, we are on teams! Everything our team likes is good; everything the other team likes is bad. It becomes impossible not to hyperfixate on differences.
Suddenly, it no longer matters if we are from the same town, worship the same god, like the same movies, share the same friends, or breathe the same air. By burying our heads in the sand of politics we willingly block out all the external complexity, nuance, and beauty that exists in the world. The universe is reduced merely to an equation of “us” and “them.”
Political leanings in this context begin to take the shape of “good” and “evil.” If you don’t agree with me — or worse, if you agree with them— you’re evil. And if someone with a different background has no claim to either side of this equation? Easy! They’re a moderate, and that also makes them evil!
Then, “us” and “them” becomes “us” versus “them.” In this simplified world of politics there are no strangers; only friends and enemies.
This tendency breeds an infectious narcissism that is essential for sustaining a pure political world view. The only way you can look down on someone indistinguishable from you in every non-political sense is by placing yourself on a pedestal. The political narcissist stands atop a hill, casting judgment on everyone below, without pondering what awaits when they climb back down. They live only in the moment, with no regard for the past or future, in a state of delusional, condescending stupor.
As the mind degenerates into political mush, reality itself becomes just another partisan battleground. What’s “real” is what feeds our confirmation bias while “falsehood” is anything that challenges our biases. Lies and misdeeds become acceptable — as long as they come from “our” team. The basic foundations of community and tolerance dry up. Hatred seamlessly fills their place.
Choosing to interpret our entire existence through the tiny window of politics is not conducive to peace, love, or liberty. The world is a big place filled with wonderful, complex people. Humans are capable of terrible destruction and horrors beyond comprehension, to be sure, but they are also capable of empathy, understanding, and humility.
We cannot claim to want a better and more tolerant world while simultaneously creating distance between ourselves and those with whom we disagree.
To overcome this exercise in collective insanity called “political polarization” we must separate politics from individuals. People are not soulless political units or unthinking (though voting) robots.
We all have our own desires, fears, and passions. As individuals, we hold the power to choose whether to wear our political glasses or take them off and build common understanding rather than sow division.
Political polarization cannot exist without us. But we can exist without it.
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This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the United States government or the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.